By Dr. Mark Pleiss
Every moment of our lives is filled with stress. Our body preforms its basic functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion, in response to internal and external stressors throughout our entire life. Quite simply, a life without stress is impossible; however, how we manage stress and stressful situations is immensely important to our own mental health and wellness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Managing stress is a major component of overall wellness, and although I will be concentrating on mental wellness, it is important to note that coping with stress impacts all aspects of our life. Fortunately for many of us, our fraternity experience within Phi Delta Theta can provide some of the best supports and opportunities to cope with stress through use of our own coping skills combined with available social supports.
As an undergraduate, the stress of classes, midterms, fraternity obligations, jobs/work studies, research and labs, interviews for jobs or internships, and applications to scholarships, graduate schools, medical school, or employment, can impact our mental wellness significantly. You may also participate in college sports, intramural sports, clubs, other Greek-related activities, philanthropies, and community service projects, which adds to things that we must manage in our busy schedules. We also have the added stress of maintaining relationships with our family, friends, significant others, and fraternity brothers. For our seniors, there is the added stress of your upcoming graduation. Just looking at that list of stressors can feel a bit overwhelming at times. Some stressors are temporary, such as midterms, job interviews, and a tough semester of challenging classes, while others are likely to last longer, such as interpersonal relationships, family members with series illnesses, or work-related stress. Simply put, life is stressful, but that’s okay.
As I write this, many of you are likely going through the stress of midterms, planning spring break trips or what to do while off for a week, and finishing out the remainder of the semester. These are added to your daily stressors of managing your time to study, maintaining your friendships, preparing for life after graduation or the summer between semesters, and whatever else you choose to do to occupy your time. Increases in stress are going to occur regardless of what we do, and this is just a natural part of life. Stress is always going to impact us, but the impacts can be either positive or negative.
Negative stress can be detrimental to our overall health physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, going back to the definition of health by WHO. Negative or mismanaged stress can impact us in many ways physically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. Some signs that we are not managing our stress well include headaches, fatigue, increase in colds/flu, worry, inability to concentrate, negativity, loss of confidence, irritability, depression, anger, loss of sleep, restlessness, and increases in alcohol, tobacco, illicit substance abuse, as well as engaging in risky behavior. These are just some of the signs that someone is not managing stress well, and each person is going to differ greatly based upon the stressor, the perception of their ability to manage stress, and how well they can cope with the stressor.
So what can we do to manage our stress as an individual and as a fraternity chapter? Well individually, we can identify our sources of stress, control the controllable stressors and let go of those that are outside of our control, find ways of coping that work best for us, practice a healthy lifestyle, strive for balance, stay organized with good time management skills, prioritize tasks, maintain a routine, and engage in social support. This can take shape in many different ways and is always tailored to the individual. In a practical approach, this may be as simple as keeping a list of things to do and due dates, going to the gym regularly, avoiding distractors when studying, such as social media and texting, taking time to relax and just listen to a favorite song or watch a funny video clip, or take time to get off of campus. Sometimes the little things that we do to manage our stress are most important and unfortunately the first to go when we feel large amounts of stress. The possibilities are endless and each person has to take responsibility to try and practice different ways of coping to find those techniques that work best for them to manage their stressors.
In the context of our fraternity chapters, we hopefully have a well-developed social support system that we can utilize when feeling stressed out. Chapters can hold brotherhood dinners after chapter, all go to the dining hall around the same time, have a flag football game every Friday after classes are done for the week, go and do the community service and philanthropy events for other organizations, pass the gavel in chapter, provide time to just relax with a movie night, going to sporting events, or other campus activities. Again, these don’t always have to be large organized activities, but just engaging with our brothers and sharing experiences can build those strong relationships that help add resiliency when an individual experiences stress. Just having people around us that support us is often enough for us to cope with any stressor in a healthy way.
So as the semester continues to move forward, remember to do the little things for yourself and for your brothers. Create a list of things that you can do when feeling stressed out that are healthy and helpful to you, and then go out and do those things that help you cope with any stress in your life. At the end of the day, life will be stressful enough by itself, so go and actively manage the stressors that you can to promote you becoming the greatest version of yourself, and help your brothers do the same.